“I’ve always felt that everybody in Hollywood has exactly the same job,” executive (and former UPN chief) Dean Valentine told us in 2009. “They just call it different things. Everybody’s job is to package together ideas and talent and market them. That job is the same whether you’re an agent or a studio executive or a writer or a buyer or a seller… If you’re a buyer, all you’re thinking about is, ‘Is this going to make my network look really bad? Is it going to fail? Is it going to succeed? How does it fit in with a much broader strategic picture?’ When you’re a seller, you’re not looking at any strategic picture. You’re looking at closing the deal right now, period. It's one little focus. When you’re a buyer, you’re looking at your schedule; you’re looking at the evolution of the business. You’re looking at advertisers, how they’re going to respond to it. Can you sell it? How much is it going to cost you to sell it? Where does it fit in on your schedule? Many more strategic considerations go in than simply your own passion for the show.”
What better time, than while we’re checking network scorecards in this year’s upfront season, to scan through our Archive of American Television collection to see what makes great content tick? There are thousands of “formulas” for producing bombs (most concerning networks meddling with a creator’s vision or bad casting) and there will never be a bonafide formula for producing, selling, and buying a hit. If there were, there’d be an app for that. In the meantime, here are some life lessons that buyers and sellers can all take to heart:
Leslie Moonves (Executive)
“The business is all about content and providing stories. It used to be they just got it over the air. Then it became over the air and repeats. Then it became over the air, repeats and syndication, DVDs. Now it's everywhere. Our content is being distributed in a hundred places while 10 years ago, it was distributed in one or two places. So, the world is rapidly changed. The key is to get paid for that because that’s going to have to replace advertising revenue, which may or may not go up. But everybody should remember that the storytellers are always going to be needed. That it's always going to be about that, no matter how you get that content. I think we should all be secure in the fact that if we do the good work, it will still translate.”
Diane English (Creator, “Murphy Brown”)
“Stick to your guns. No one really makes it work unless they have their own voice, a unique voice, something that is theirs. It has to come out of your heart, out of your whole being. It can’t be ‘ooh, that’s a clever idea.’ If you don’t feel it, you’re not going to be able to write it in a way that gets people’s attention and ultimately stays on the air.”
Vince Gilligan (Creator, “Breaking Bad”)
“You might as well fail doing something you care about, versus something you think is what the buyers want to buy. The truth is, the buyers want passion just as much as any of us do. We want someone coming in the room and say, ‘Here’s my story. It’s crazy. I know it’s out there. It’s edgy. Sign on to this crazy dream with me.’”
Barbara Corday (Co-creator, “Cagney & Lacey”)
“I think that anyone who thinks they can write for television without being a lover of television is sadly mistaken.”
Phil Rosenthal (Creator, “Everybody Loves Raymond”)
“The best advice I ever got was from Ed Weinberger. He said, ‘do the show you want to do, because in the end they’re going to cancel you anyway.’ It’s a good philosophy of life. We all get cancelled anyway. The same with a show. Why not do it that way? They’re going to cancel you anyway.”
Susan Lacy (Executive Producer, “American Masters”)
"Quite simply, our measure of success should be: Are we as good as we can be? Not how much money did we make? That is a huge element that distinguishes us from just about everybody else out there."
Marlo Thomas (Executive Producer, “That Girl”)
"Know that the audience is as smart as you are. The audience is not this sort of big, massive, dumb person.... as if everybody out watching television isn't very smart. That is not the right way to put together any, film or television series. You really have to realize that the audience is you."
Sure, stubbornness isn’t a surefire route to success, but loving what you do is certainly a good place to start. Especially if we all have the same job….
You can see more from these interviewees at http://emmytvlegends.org.